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Though these two National Parks essentially only have a valley between them, they are both amazing and yet remarkably different. No visit to Moab would be complete without seeing both Arches and Canyonlands.
In Arches most of the amazing rock features rise upwards, whereas in Canyonlands, we mostly look down across panoramic views from an elevated plateau.
It is possible to visit both Parks in one very long day, but we recommend taking your time and allowing a separate day for each.
Moab has long been a favourite place for adventure sport enthusiasts like mountain-bikers and rock climbers but simply driving the Arches National Park route as a sightseeing day trip is incredible in its own right.
With an introductory explanation of the complex geological forces required to create features like The Windows, and the slow constant affect weather elements have to change the landscape you’ll appreciate how remarkably unique it is. Hear stories about the characters who were drawn here and the fragile ecosystem that supplies a lifeline to a surprising amount of diversity.
But with over 2,000 arches located throughout the park, and most travellers on a limited schedule, we’ll lead you to not to be missed features like Double Arch and Landscape Arch. More time may allow you to visit Skyline Arch and Devils Garden areas, as well as many more.
Canyonlands offers a vastly different experience even though it is only across the valley from the more famous Arches National Park.
Starting in Moab, we travel to the Island in the Sky District continuing along Grand View Point Road. Enthusiastic photographers should get up early if the want to capture Canyonlands’ most famous image – sunrise through Mesa Arch. If we start later in the day, arrange your time so you are still in the Park for a spectacular sunset.
Along the way we’ll examine perplexing elements at Upheaval Dome and how this has led to two different theories behind Utah’s “belly button”. A view to the Merrimac and Monitor Buttes will have you imagining them as the American Civil War armor plated ships, or ironclads, that they resemble. Gaze down into the depths at Green River Outlook carved by the unrelenting Colorado and Green Rivers. Those fit and properly prepared should hike the Aztec Butte Trail to view ancestral Puebloan structures called granaries.
For those with limited mobility Canyonlands offers many easily accessible scenic viewpoints, and each one adds to understanding how this is an island in the sky.
Start in Moab or join the tour as you approach either Arches or Canyonlands National Park Entrances.
Arches – 1 Full Day suggested
Canyonlands – 1/2 – 1 Day
Of course, it’s much nicer if you have more time, especially for hiking.
Arches – loop 42 miles from Moab
Canyonlands – loop 75 miles from Moab
Arches National Park has far more visitors, but we think the visiting one after the other makes for a great contrast and explanation of the forces of erosion at work. Both Arches and Canyonlands feature incredible red rock landscapes yet each are strikingly different.
Arches and Canyonlands National Parks are open year-round, 24-hours a day. Visitation is high from March to October, with Easter, Memorial Day and Labor Day the busiest.
The best times to visit weatherwise are April through May and September through October. For that reason, spring and fall also tend to be the busiest times to visit. Consider visiting in winter, taking advantage of off-season rates and generally milder sunny weather.
If you only have one day to visit both Arches and Canyonlands, our recommendation is to visit Arches first, and weight your time 2/3rds to Arches. Canyonlands is a terrific place to visit later in the day and especially to enjoy the sunset.
If you have more than one day, then either park will impress you in any order.
We recommend a minimum of two days to explore both parks, a full day in Arches National Park and half a day for Canyonlands. You could fit both parks into a day and get to see the major highlights, but you won’t have much time to hike or enjoy some of the other activities or shopping in Moab.
Start in Arches and spend most of your day there, plan on moving over to Canyonlands around 3pm and enjoy the spectacular sunsets from the high plateau.
Arches is an incredibly popular national park. It’s not uncommon to experience long entrance lines, full parking areas, and packed viewpoints. To beat the crowds, enter the park before 9am in the morning or after 2pm. If the park fills, staff may temporarily delay entries into the park.
You can also return at night to star gaze. Certified as an official International Dark Sky Park, return at night to see the night sky full of stars. Bring your binoculars or join a Stargazer Program with a ranger.
The 40-mile Arches Scenic Drive loop passes many of the park’s most splendid rock arches and other natural formations. You can see many of the park’s most famous views from the comfort of your car, although we strongly recommend getting out of the car and exploring the park on foot.
There are over 2,000 arches located throughout the park, so expect lots of stops for photos and time at viewpoints to fully absorb the scenes.
If you are in reasonably good shape, Delicate Arch takes a little over an hour to reach. Just be aware that the hike to the arch is all uphill, and there is no shade – so be sure to carry plenty of water and a hat. The Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint is adjacent to the parking area and is accessible to people using wheelchairs.
Both the Scenic Drive Loop in Arches and Island in the Sky road in Canyonlands offer great viewing from the car. Combined with short paved or gravel pathways to viewpoints, it makes for an enjoyable experience for those with physical or mobility issues.